How to enjoy traffic jams & queues

It’s 6pm on a Friday evening, and you’ve been sat on the motorway for over an hour an haven’t moved an inch in the last twenty minutes. How do you feel?

In this situation, even with Simon Mayo’s drive-time show blaring out of the radio, I imagine most of us would feel our frustration levels beginning to boil…

The present moment, what’s that?

Due to our mind’s inherent ability to project forwards into the future and alway onto the next thing, and the next thing, and the next we often miss the present moment.

Have you ever driven to work and then wondered how you got there? How often have you been getting ready for work in the morning and your mind is already in that meeting you’ve got that afternoon? This is the mind up to it’s usual games, projecting forwards and trying to calculate and influence the future before its even arrived.

An insight into annoyance

I want to introduce you to a concept called ‘Frustration gaps’. A frustration gap is what occurs when there is a discrepancy between what we want to happen and what actually happens. The bigger the gap between tour desire and the reality of the situation the greater the feelings of frustration.

I’ll give you an example… You wake up and really want it to be a nice sunny day so you can hang your washing outside. You open your curtains, and it’s greyer and wetter than John Major. How do you feel? If you’d opened your curtains and been scorched by rays of sunshine how would you have felt? The further away reality is from your desire the bigger the frustration gap and the more inner tension you feel.

What you expect determines how you’ll feel

Lets apply this to those lovely traffic jams for a moment. On a Friday evening you want to get home as quickly as possible so you can spend quality time with your family (desire) but the universe conspires against you and presents you with a traffic jam (reality) The gap between your desire and the reality of the situation is large, therefore you feel a lot of frustration.

Now, lets imagine you finish work at five, hit the motorway and the roads are clear and you get home early. Here your desire has more than been met so not only do you not feel any frustration, but you will probably experience some elation, and maybe a bit of smugness!

Now you know why you get grumpy!

Just sit and think for a moment about the things that annoy you most and apply the frustration gap model to it, and all will become clear…

My reason for explaining frustration gaps to you is to help you understand why you feel wound up in so many situations. It’s because reality isn’t meeting your desires. But reality just doesn’t work that way. No matter how much you sulk and swear at Simon Mayo you can’t make the traffic jam disappear, it’ll do it when it feels ready to.

Change your lens?

A useful way of stopping struggling with reality in situations is to reframe them. What I mean by this is to look at them through a different lens. Being stuck in a Friday night traffic jam can be transformed from a painful experience into an opportunity for some ‘you time’ to relax. The same can be said of queues.

In either of these situations there’s nothing you can do. It’s outside your control so let go. This is great because it means you can have a rare moment of doing nothing without having to feel guilty about it. If you sat on your bum and did nothing at work or at home chances are you’d have an angry boss or peeved partner on the warpath.

A holiday in your car?

So why not try a bit of ‘Ocean Breathing’ the next time you find yourself in a frustration trap on the motorway?

Here are the simple steps:

  1. Visualise looking out to sea (obviously don’t close your eyes!)
  2. Observe the rhythm of the water as some of it washes up on to the beach near your feet, some of it soaks into the sand, then the rest of it washes back out to sea
  3. This three part rhythm is a perfect rhythm to breathe with – as the water washes onto the sand, that is you inhaling…
  4. As some of the water soaks into the sand, that is the oxygen soaking into the cells of your body…
  5. As the rest of the water washes back out to sea, that is you exhaling…

As you follow this pattern you will be giving your mind and body some well deserved relaxation time. Suddenly those times being held hostage in queues whether they be on the M1 or in Barclays, can now be seen as opportunities to stand under a waterfall of relaxation and renew yourself…

Jonathan Pittam

Mental health & Resilience trainer



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